Pressey Acknowledges Haters, Comes Up Big Against GatorsPosted by dnspewak on February 20th, 2013
Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak. He filed this report following Missouri’s victory over Florida at Mizzou Arena.
Phil Pressey knows the haters exist. He knows what they say, too. You shoot too much. You turn the ball over too much. You make stupid decisions late in games. You’re a team cancer. You’ve regressed from a year ago. You hardly look like the SEC Player of the Year. You play too out of control. As Missouri has tumbled out of the national rankings — thanks in large part to a 1-6 road record — Pressey has taken the majority of the heat for his high turnover rate and questionable decision-making. Some of it is overkill and exaggeration; some of it is rooted in truth.
On Tuesday, Pressey made everybody shut up with a gritty performance on national television in a 63-60 victory over fifth-ranked Florida. “He was dialed in on both ends,” his coach Frank Haith said. The turnover bug hit Pressey early, which partly contributed to the Tigers’ 13-point deficit with about 11 minutes to play in regulation. Missouri couldn’t defend the perimeter, Pressey wasn’t creating, and it appeared as though Missouri would slide further toward the wrong side of the bubble with a home loss to the Gators.
Except there’s a reason the league voted Pressey the SEC Player of the Year before the 2012-13 campaign. And there’s a reason this Missouri team looks up to him. As the minutes wound down and the Tigers attempted to claw back into the game, Pressey became visibly vocal on the bench and on the court. He got in his teammates’ faces during TV timeouts, he yapped his mouth at anybody who would listen, and he clapped his hands in encouragement. He was a leader. It helped the Tigers harass Florida late in the game on the defensive end, and Pressey individually finished with 10 assists and three steals. He also took only five shot attempts, most of which were smart and within the flow of the offense. Not bad for a guy who turned the ball over 10 times in a 31-point loss in Gainesville a month ago. “He was, at our place, crazy,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. It was different on Tuesday. “He made the game easy for everybody else,” Donovan said. “He really played within himself.”
He had help in this second meeting, too, in the form of Laurence Bowers. The senior forward sat out the previous Florida game with an injury, but Pressey helped facilitate his 17-point performance. Missouri’s front line also dominated Patric Young, who was saddled with foul trouble and barely made an impact on the game. “Other than Laurence, nobody really played big. It was four points here, six points there, a couple rebounds there. When I say everybody contributed to that win,” Pressey said, “I mean everybody.” In the postgame press conference, Pressey had a noticeably different demeanor. He used to be quiet. Thoughtful, but introverted. Now, he’s grown into The Guy, along with Bowers. “I thought he had a great grasp of his teammates. He showed tremendous leadership in timeouts, and just always was talking,” Haith said. “That’s what we really harped on Phil — is being that vocal leader. I’m so proud in listening to him talk, he’s come a long way.” He was also instrumental on the defensive end, which wound up winning Missouri the game. The Tigers forced the Gators to misfire on two three-pointers in the final minute, sealing the win and injecting a little momentum into the program before a College Gameday showdown at Kentucky on Saturday. “I know how good we can be. The coaches know how good we can be,” Pressey said. “We just need to put it together.” On Tuesday, that’s exactly what Missouri did, thanks in large part to Pressey himself.